1st century synagogue discovered in the Galilee

An interesting discovery in Israel:

Archaeologists recently discovered a synagogue from the Second Temple era at the construction site of a hotel along the Migdal coast, a few miles north of Tiberias. At the center of the synagogue is a stone inscribed with a seven-branch menorah.

…The Archaeological Authority’s director of the excavation called the finds “exciting and unique.” Dina Avshalom-Gorni said, “This is the first time in which a description of the menorah was discovered from the days that the Temple still stood. This is the first menorah discovered in a Jewish context, dated to the Second Temple era (the beginning of the Roman era). One could suppose that the inscription that appears on the stone that the Archaeological Authority discovered was made by an artisan that saw the seven-branched menorah at the Temple in Jerusalem with his own eyes.” She added that the synagogue joins the ranks of only six other synagogues in the world known to exist from the Second Temple era.

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A decorative stone from the 1st century A.D. synagogue in Magdala. Note the depiction of the seven-branched menorah. As mentioned above, it may have been carved by an eyewitness to the actual one that, at that time, stood in the Jerusalem Temple. These types of decorations were common in ancient Jewish synagogues. (Photo courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.)

Synagogues from around the time of Jesus appear to not be as common as those from later centuries. Some suggest this is due to the Temple’s existence as a central place of worship. After the Temple’s destruction in A.D. 70, synagogues may have proliferated as the only central places for Jews to worship.

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The northen half of the Sea of Galilee, viewed from Mt. Arbel. Magdala (modern 'Migdal') is located along the shore of Galilee on the far right of this photo. It is the likely hometown of a famous biblical woman called Mary the "Magdal-ene".

There is another ancient synagogue in nearby Capernaum. It dates a few centuries later than this one, but is likely the same location of the 1st century synagogue that Jesus knew. You can read my earlier post about the Capernaum synagogue (with photos).

The Bible records how Jesus taught in synagogues such as the one in Capernaum. He would have passed by Magdala in his journeys along the western coast of Galilee. Although he is not recorded as entering the synagogue in Magdala, there is a probability He would have used it.

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About LukeChandler

Luke holds an M.A. in Ancient and Classical History and has been an adjunct professor at Florida College in Temple Terrace, Florida. Luke and his wife Melanie have five children. He serves as a minister in English and Spanish with the North Terrace Church of Christ and participates annually in archaeological excavations in Israel. Luke also leads tours to Europe and the Bible Lands.
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